Choosing music for the marriage liturgy can be one of the most rewarding tasks of your wedding preparation. Music is more than a decoration to the ceremony – it is an integral part of the rite, just like the prayers, readings, and actions. Music has the power to convey the depths of God’s love for us, to unite the assembly in song, and to express the worship and prayer of those who gather to celebrate this joyful event.
The priest or deacon helping you to prepare for the marriage celebration can let you know whether the diocese or parish has its own wedding music guidelines. Read these guidelines carefully before beginning to plan the music. The priest or deacon can also give you the name and contact information of the parish music minister who will guide you in selecting the music and musicians.
Music for the Marriage Liturgy
Before you begin to work with the parish music minister to choose music for the liturgy, you need to discuss with the priest or deacon whether your marriage will be celebrated during or outside Mass. If your marriage will be celebrated during Mass, you will need to consider music for the following.
- The Introductory Rites begin with a procession, which may be accompanied by a congregational hymn or instrumental music. If there is no singing during the procession, a hymn may be sung immediately after the procession.
- During the Liturgy of the Word, the cantor leads the congregation in singing the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel Acclamation.
- The Rite of Marriage follows the homily. The assembly may join in a hymn or song of praise following the blessing and exchange of rings.
- The Liturgy of the Eucharist is celebrated almost exactly the same as at Sunday Mass. There may be a song or instrumental music during the preparation of the altar and gifts. The whole assembly should join in singing the acclamations of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God). If possible, all should join in singing during or after Communion, but instrumental music or another song may also be used.
- The Concluding Rite consists of a simple blessing and dismissal. The recessional generally takes the form of instrumental music, or all may join in a hymn.
If your marriage is to be celebrated outside Mass, the musical choices are identical to those listed above, except that there is no Liturgy of the Eucharist. The liturgy includes Introductory Rites and the Liturgy of the Word before the Rite of Marriage, followed by a brief Concluding Rite.
Whether the wedding takes place within Mass or not, it is usually appropriate to plan for a brief period of prelude music, perhaps ten to fifteen minutes. The prelude should help to prepare the congregation to enter into the celebration in a spirit of reverence and joy.
What Kind of Music?
Because the marriage rite is a liturgical celebration, it calls for liturgical music. The requirements for music at the wedding liturgy are the same as for Sunday Mass or any other liturgical celebration.
Each piece of music for the liturgy needs to be evaluated according to liturgical, pastoral, and musical criteria. Is it connected to the liturgical action and does it use a text suitable for that particular part of the rite? Does it draw the gathered assembly more deeply into the holy things being celebrated? Is the music of good quality, capable of expressing the profound mystery of God’s love? These criteria are drawn from the U.S. bishops’ music guidelines, Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship, which describes them in greater detail (nos. 126-136).
Secular music is inappropriate for the wedding liturgy even if it speaks of love or marriage. Not even all religious music is necessarily appropriate for the liturgy. Each piece needs to be evaluated according to the criteria mentioned above.
Planning for any liturgy needs to take account of the congregation. The choice of music should foster the full, conscious, and active participation of the entire assembly. There are some parts of the liturgy that by their nature call for active singing by everyone, while other parts may be sung by choir or cantor or spoken by all.
The parish musician working with you will probably want to know what the congregation will be like. If most of the participants are active Catholics or active members of other Christian churches, they may be able to take on a greater singing role than if they have little or no connection to the Church.
The parish music minister will assist you in choosing musicians for your wedding and let you know what the fees for their services are. Most wedding celebrations will require the ministry of a cantor and organist (or other instrumentalist).
- The cantor sings certain parts of the liturgy, such as the verses of the Responsorial Psalm, and also leads the singing of the assembly. A confident and well-trained cantor will put the congregation at ease and help to foster active participation in the liturgy. The cantor may also sing an appropriate vocal solo before the liturgy, or even during the preparation of the gifts or after Communion.
- The organist leads the singing of the congregation, accompanies the cantor, and provides instrumental music at various times (e.g., during the entrance procession or before the liturgy).
While the cantor and organist are the primary music ministers for the marriage liturgy, there may also be other singers or instruments. If you would like additional musicians, you should speak to your parish music director about the resources that may be available.
The cantor, organist, and other musicians should of course be experienced and well trained for their roles. For this reason many parishes require that musical ministries be performed by parish musicians. If you have a qualified family member or friend that you would like to include at your marriage celebration, you should discuss this matter with the parish musician.
Celebrating the Wedding
Music for the wedding celebration is above all a way to experience God’s loving presence and to respond in praise and prayer. Once the planning has been done, allow yourself to enter into the wedding ceremony in a spirit of prayer. May the marriage liturgy and its music strengthen you and the other participants in your faith as you begin life together.